Many of us struggle with conflict, and with doing the difficult task that is absolutely necessary. Sometimes, that difficult task is deciding whether to let one of our associates go, and then actually firing them. I get asked about this topic regularly and have decided to help you get your mind into the right frame for handling this important work with style and compassion. Read on…
When Should I Fire Versus Giving Another Chance? – If you are a compassionate leader, you’ve no doubt invested in your associate and had multiple conversations about your expectations and the roles and responsibilities of the position. You’ve most likely also given the individual a series of chances to turn around their performance, and have attentively watched to see if their performance is turning the corner. When you’ve given your associate every chance to succeed and have eliminated the possibility that they could be poorly on-boarded or poorly trained, you have to ask yourself a question. The question is: “If I give this employee another chance, will they make the most of it and turn around their behavior and their performance?” If the answer to that question is anything other than an emphatic yes or maybe, then it’s probably time to prepare to terminate their employment with your organization. Of course, as an empathetic human being, you have to have inquired about and considered personal problems, like family issues, health issues, etc. and have to have given some leeway for such an issue first. If all you should have done to help the associate has been done, and you’re convinced that another attempt at a turnaround will just be a wasted effort, then it’s time to prepare for the conversation to end their employment.
What Can I Say in The Firing Conversation? – Again, you need to realize that the person that you’re about to fire is not necessarily a bad person, so there is no room for blame or malice in this conversation. The person you’re about to fire deserves your respect, and some support as you terminate their employment. I like to start out that conversation with a very direct statement that this won’t be a fun, positive conversation, but that it is a conversation that we need to have nonetheless. I talk about the organization’s expectations and about my expectations as a leader for the person in this role. I state quickly that I don’t see a strong “fit” between this person’s skills and competencies and the requirements of the position. I talk about the “gap” between what we expect and what the person has been able to deliver. I mention that the time has come to correct the situation so that the organization gets a chance to hire someone who is a “fit” and for the employee to take their skills to another organization and another role, where they have a great chance to contribute to success. This conversation is about being respectful and gentle, in a supportive way. No benefit can come from being too blunt or hurtful.
What Can I Expect as An Outcome? – If you approach this as a conversation about how the company’s needs and the employee’s strengths are not a match, and if you are sincere, supportive and respectful, this conversation should go all right, and may even be a breath of fresh air for the terminated former colleague. Put yourself in their shoes and help them to quickly pivot from working at your firm to looking for an opportunity that will provide a greater chance of success because of a stronger “fit”. It sounds crazy, but a couple of times in my career I’ve been approached years later by individuals that I have had to fire, and they mentioned that my compassion and supportive advice during the termination really helped them to recalibrate and get on the right track for their next opportunity. This is an important conversation, and you want to prepare diligently in advance to ensure that you cover all the bases, and handle it like a consummate professional.
This is the sort of topic that deserves a lot of consideration and a deeper examination than this brief article. If you’re struggling with an underperforming associate in your firm, and you need some assistance getting to a comfortable place so that you can make the right decision about whether to reinvest in the associate or recognize that it’s time to terminate their employment, seek out the counsel of your legal counsel and a licensed business coach. We have developed tools to help our clients with just such a critical conversation and the results that they gain after preparation are really positive. This is a big topic, and you want to be sure that you get it right.
Michael is an award-winning business advisor and executive development coach in the Twin Cities area in Minnesota. Michael works with C-Suite Executives, their leadership teams, and emerging leaders to master the art and science of leadership and business operational excellence. If you’d like more information about Michael’s tools and services around employee performance management and terminations, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.